Like elsewhere in the world, in Germany, too, COVID-19 walks hand in hand with the a-Virus. Facing an exponential growth in anti-Semitic incidents, legislative measures are an important component in the battle against this threat. The anti-BDS resolution passed by Bundestag in 2019, for example, is an effective vaccine against socio-political super-spreaders. Germany’s adoption of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism in 2017 was another important measure. It helped demystify the bond between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism inherent in the ideological DNA of BDS.
Most Jews in the diaspora experience this inseparable bond in every-day life. The introduction of the IHRA definition transformed this intuitive knowledge into political consensus – adopted by governments and institutions around the world. Most recently, by Bahrain and the Global Imams Council. They seemingly understood with ease what some German intellectuals have difficulties to understand.
In midst of the pandemic, which hit Germany as hard as some of its European neighbors, last week a group of cultural superheroes rose to a courageous mission: protect Germany’s democracy and cultural life from an attack against freedom of expression and the political aesthetics of “Weltoffenheit” (openness to the world). A coordinated outcry by over 20 heads of culture and research institutions, including the well-known Goethe Institute, driven by the fear of losing what they view as an indispensable component of academic and cultural discourse in Germany: anti-Zionists.
The outcry was triggered by a series of incidents in which, following political pressure, BDS-supporting scholars were uninvited from publicly funded events. Most notable was the case of Achille Mbembe, a Cameroonian philosopher who was uninvited from a cultural festival in April following protests by local politician Lorenz Deutsch from the liberal party (FDP) who appealed to the organizers to comply with the NRW region’s legislation and refrain from cooperating with BDS supporters. The appeal was later reinforced by the same demand from Jewish community leaders and Germany’s anti-Semitism czar, Dr. Felix Klein.
Mbembe’s writings include the standard repertoire of academicized anti-Zionist propaganda. From Holocaust relativization to singling out and delegitimizing the Jewish State, Mbembe checks most IHRA boxes. His 2015 foreword to a poster-book of Israel demonization titled “Apartheid Israel” is a classic:
The occupation of Palestine is the biggest moral scandal of our time ….and since all they [Israel] are willing to offer is a fight to the finish, since what they are willing to do is …incremental extermination [of Palestinians] – the time has come for global isolation.
In other writings Mbembe relocates the Holocaust into the history of colonialism, depicting Israel as treason against the Jews’ history of persecution.
In defense of the Mbembes of this world, on December 12 the cultural superheroes, progeny of Germany’s “Dichter und Denker” (poets and thinkers), in a dramaturgically staged event published a romanticist statement opposing the Bundestag’s anti-BDS resolution. Lost in absurd ideological constructions, these intellectuals rose against the ‘threat’ to the quality of critical discourse about Israel without which these institutions cannot fulfill their government-given mission of promoting cultural life and historical research in Germany. Larger-than-life as superheroes usually are, they declared their principle rejection of BDS. Not because as Germans they are sickened by the thought of boycotting the Jewish State. Not because they view the obsession with Israel boycotts as hypocritical contrast to the silence about Northern Cyprus, the Krim or Tibet. Nor because of the volumes of evidence produced by international NGOs and scholars unmasking the anti-Semitic DNA of BDS. No, superheroes think simple: “We reject the BDS boycott of Israel since we consider cultural and scientific exchange to be essential.” BDS in other words is ok, they just rather not miss out on the precious scientific fruits produced by Israeli scholars by boycotting them.
When two days later the Iranian regime executed journalist Ruhollah Zam and with him freedom of expression, the superheroes had already fallen back into their winter sleep. The same deep sleep that two months earlier kept them from protesting their government’s inaction about another horrific execution – of Iranian sports icon Navid Afkari. Both men died for practicing these intellectuals’ passion: critical discourse. Yet neither made it into the list of crucial democratic causes worthy of defense.
Neither did the rise of anti-Semitic attacks against German Jews in recent months, nor the oppression of German Muslim women and girls by Islamists, nor the plight of Palestinian Christians and homosexuals under Hamas’ terror-reign in Gaza or the decades-long spread of a Shahidi death culture via Palestinian school curricula funded by German taxpayers. None of these causes managed to rip the superheroes out of their winter sleep. It is a secret formula that does the wake-up trick. It starts with I and ends with L.
The good news: this cultural initiative of shame is of negligible impact. In fact, it prompted the government to re-affirm the opposition to BDS. It also sparked a wave of counterstatements by NGOs and opinion-makers including the publisher of a leading German newspaper condemning the attempt to whitewash anti-Zionism as political criticism and sell it as crucial to cultural discourse in Germany.
Still far from sufficient, the legislative wall against anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism is an important protective shield for Jewish life in Germany. And for the democratic fabric of society at large. Remaining silent in the face of the many real causes that should shake a German intellectual’s heart, the signatories below this statement do not just disqualify as defenders of the democratic values they claim to protect. Aligning themselves with the club of leftist-intellectuals whose obsession with Israel plays a shameful role in the rise of anti-Semitism, this initiative further signals a new intellectual low point in Germany. When fanatic ideologues set intellectual standards, a country is in mental danger. The sane majority of German intellectuals will not allow this to happen.